Prime Minister Hun Sen’s youngest son, Hun Many, is the first of his father’s progeny to officially run for public office. A father of three, Hun Many has studied in the United States, France and Australia. This year he threw his hat into the ring as a candidate to represent Kampong Speu province in July’s national election, surprising many observers who thought his elder brother Manet would be first to embrace parliamentary life. The deputy cabinet chief and head of the Cambodian People’s Party Youth Association spoke to the Post’s Chhay Channyda about stepping up into politics, foreign affairs and Cambodia’s future.
At the ASEAN summit last year in Cambodia, did you have the chance to meet US President Barack Obama? What did your father tell his children about the meeting between himself and Obama?
It was an incredibly proud moment, because in history, no serving US president had come to Cambodia. But [South Korean] President Lee Myung-bak, [Chinese] Prime Minister Wen Jiabao, former [Japanese] Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda and [Australian] Prime Minister Julia Gillard also joined the ASEAN summit.
In the bilateral meeting between the Cambodian prime minister and the US president, there was a lot of talk. I also know [what was said]. I recorded the meeting in the meeting room, so I learned a lot from this discussion.
During the meeting, it was reported that there was some tension on certain issues.
I can say, as I was present during the meeting, that those types of tensions are common among leaders, but it was not an absolute 100 per cent disagreement. Be they in England or France, people get information from different sources. So that was an opportunity for Samdech [Hun Sen] to clarify [the situation in Cambodia] regarding what the media had said [about Cambodia], and he told President Obama that he got his information about Cambodia from his network or diplomats.
However, the situation that I saw on that day was not a serious disagreement. In the end, there were handshakes, discussions, and they had dinner that night.
China often gives loans or assistance to Cambodia for the construction of roads, bridges and other development. In the ASEAN meeting, there was some conflict on the issue of the South China Sea and charges that Cambodia adopted a pro-China stance. How do you feel about the government’s stance on the South China Sea?
I think the issue of the South China Sea did not [suddenly] materialise in November. We discussed and debated. [Malaysian] Prime Minister Najib [Razak] said that the issue of the South China Sea is in the mandate of ASEAN and China, and it has to do with ASEAN and China asking for other friends [to help] in following the guidelines of the DOC [Declaration on the Conduct of Parties in the South China Sea].
[Indonesian] President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono also raised that point. In fact, I can raise these points [now], because now the case is out of our hands. We [Cambodia], as the chair of ASEAN, needed to coordinate and could not express our view. Samdech Prime Minister also co-ordinated in his role as chairman of ASEAN, but President Obama said he agreed that a moderate position is how to help push the COC [Code of Conduct in the South China Sea].
We talked about [the South China Sea issue] in Phnom Penh and also in Brunei, but in Brunei, they [the media] said nothing, but we heard the news in November 2012 [while Cambodia had the ASEAN chair] that there was discord over the South China Sea.
But there is the same position [in Brunei], urging the COC. I think I will wait and see if at ASEAN Plus at the end of this year, whether it will be an issue.
Concerning the leadership of your father, what key influences have you taken from him politically?
I remember in the 1990s, my father did not want his children to engage in politics, because in the circumstances where he was still seeking peace for the country, it was very difficult. On one hand, he was responsible for the fate of the country, and on the other side, he had to think of his wife, children and entire family. But [when] I think of my father or other leaders of the CPP, the first priority, the main point of the Cambodian People’s Party, is that in all circumstances, they live with the people.
I think we all should recognise not only party policies [but that] if there was no sacrifice 34 years ago, we would not have arrived here today. The IMF [International Monetary Fund] and other countries also recognised [these achievements] as well.
This is a key factor in the sacrifice to the cause of the homeland. This is a point that I learned from my father and other CPP leaders.
In a previous interview with the Post, you quoted former US President John F Kennedy, who said, “Ask not what your country can do for you but what you can do for your country.” What did you mean by that and how important do you consider the relationship between Cambodia and the United States?
I think that his speech was about sacrifice for the homeland. In fact, it reflects the real context of what’s happening in Cambodia, because if there had been no Kampuchean United Front for National Salvation [that liberated Cambodia from the Khmer Rouge], there would have been no sacrifice of fresh blood for the country. In that time, foreigners didn’t help us. I think regarding the other question, that the relationship with the US is crucial. If we study history, we suffered a lot of long centuries from war. So the CPP’s leaders said that Cambodia needs only friends, whether they are from the US, France, Australia or from within the framework of ASEAN, we want only friends, because this can develop our country.
I remember President Obama’s speech when he was receiving the Nobel Peace Prize in 2008, he thanked the committee that gave him the award but said the American people voted for him, so his important task was to serve his people. That is, he wanted to show that even if the world wants the president to take a peaceful position, he serves his people first.
In the future, if you are selected as a lawmaker in Kampong Speu province, what are the most important issues you will aim to solve for your constituents?
Regarding rice this year, Kampong Speu province was affected by swirling winds and violent storms, so we went to the fields. We think the most important factor is to share in their [farmers’] willpower and woes. This is not new to the CPP, but we, the next generation, will help more.
Do you believe young members of the CPP should seek to lead the country in the same way their leaders have, or should they have a different vision?
The CPP says the first thing the party youth must understand is about what is changing.
This means we must not copy, but be creative. I also think that we need transparency, and where there is a lack of progress, we must reorganise.
We also have to gather the basics to be innovative. If we do not understand where we come from, and if we do everything by copying other countries, it is impossible. One thing an IMF representative in Cambodia said was that “The factor that will make the Kingdom of Cambodia succeed in the development of its economy is based on ‘when in Rome, do as the Romans do’. With development partners, discuss, but be creative where it is suitable in the context of Cambodia.”
And we think that for this language to be processed, the CPP Youth must clearly understand where we come from, know what those basics are. If the basics are strong as recommended by the CPP, we need to be creative with what we have irrespective of any other country. There will always be faults, but we are united better if we know what our basics are.
It is the same as a supporting beam if you want to make a roof. We have to think about where the roof is and whether there might be a high risk of the house collapsing. The achievements are not reserved for anyone or the CPP; they are combined and united, because today youth have more opportunities, so we must do what is better.
What are your ambitions for the future?
I’ve spoken enough now. Thank you.
Interview has been edited for length and clarity.